Why Do We Need Term Limits
One problem in government is that the longer a politician is in power, the more out-of-touch with their district they tend to become, the less responsive they tend to be to their constituents, and the harder it is to remove them from office. In the pursuit of reelection, getting campaign contributions takes more and more of their time, and the focus on money rather than solutions to problems makes them more susceptible to less altruistic interests. As they gain funds and influence, even lousy incumbents have been shown to have a clear advantage in an election.
The simple answer has been to restrict each politician to two terms of office and then force ‘retirement’. I think that’s wasteful. A statesman requires critical qualities and talents that can improve with experience, and the qualities that separate the statesman from the politician seem to be becoming increasingly rare.
There should be a way to make the most of these skills without suffering the adverse side-effects.
A Better Plan – The 50% Rule
My idea would be to let a candidate serve as long as his constituents want him/her without ever letting them be the incumbent. This means after serving their term, they would return to their district for at least one term to reconnect with their constituents. They would not be allowed to hold any political office during that time, whether local, state, or federal.
It would also be good to have a separate law prohibiting them from working as a lobbyist for a set time longer than one term (maybe seven to ten years) after leaving office. And if not already on the books, a law should be put in place requiring a candidate to live in their district for at least one term of office before becoming a candidate. If the candidate is any good at being a statesman, s/he could end up with more than twenty years of public service. It would just take him/her over forty years to achieve that goal. The term incumbent and the advantages of being an incumbent would disappear while still allowing the gifted to fulfill a career in public service.
Other Helpful Ideas
Since we’ve mentioned the need to chase campaign funds as a root of this problem, it also makes sense to try to level the playing field there too. I believe the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court was a mistake (see ‘If You Don’t Have To Pay For It, It Can’t Be Considered Free Speech” – Supreme Court). Steps should be taken to limit campaign contributions have the government fund viable campaigns, or even limit the duration of political campaigns to keep us from going from a one ‘man’, one vote system to one dollar, one vote. In debunking arguments favoring the electoral college (Another Look At The Electoral College), I also decry the ‘one acre, one vote’ notion. I discuss other possible improvements to the election process in Two Political Parties Are Not Enough.
As wise and principled as our forefathers were, even they could not imagine the changes in store in the future before them. That’s why they made provisions to change our rules of governing as needed. We may need to do that now to preserve the power that was originally intended for the people of this great country.